Formed in 1981, Wham! achieved success with a speed and ease that is almost unheard of now, in an age of manufactured pop groups and non-babies. The fact that they did it for the love of music and not for fame makes their story all the more fascinating, not least for a new generation of fans who grew up on a diet of reality TV and who see fame more as an end in itself. game than a -product of talent or success.
“Growing up, we had no real idea of celebrity. I wasn’t exposed to it in any way. Our perspective has always been shaped by what people produce, not how they have been perceived. So it was important for us to form a band and write songs. The artists whose records we bought, we bought them for the music. We did not idolize them, but we worshiped them.”
As the documentary recalls, Ridgeley and Michael were allowed a level of control over their production that now seems staggering, not least because they were only 19 when their first single, Wham Rap!, went to number one, and at 23, when the band split up.
That they only released 12 singles – four of which reached number one – is a reminder of how much they achieved in their four years together. Does he think such autonomy will be possible in 2023? “Taylor Swift re-recorded all her own material. So yes, I think there are artists who are confident enough to assert themselves, but it’s rare because it takes real strength of character.”
He is reluctant to single out contemporary pop artists for praise and claims to be out of touch. “You’re asking the wrong person,” he laughs. “There are a lot of good songwriters out there. Are they writing songs that will last the same way some of the songs Yog has written? One or two, potentially. Taylor Swift. I like some of Harry Styles’ stuff. As it Was is a fantastic pop record and it will last.”
The Million Dollar Question: What’s His Favorite George Michael Song? “Amazing,” he says without hesitation. “It could have been Wham! record, but it’s a brilliant George Michael record. Fantastic self-analytical lyrics, but also humorous.” His beloved Wham! the song is I’m Your Man. “There’s energy and tension from the opening lane.”
I ask how you would describe the musical legacy of Wham! “Live music, like a body, has an exuberance and effervescence that is audible. But the traces are not of one type. You listen to Club Tropicana and Wham Rap! and if someone tells you they’re from different bands, you’ll believe them, except Yog’s vocals are recognisable. But we’ve never limited ourselves to a style or genre. There was no particular sound. The sound was George’s voice and the quality of the recordings, the melodies.”